top of page

Review: The Last Five Years (Garrick Theatre)

The story behind the current production of The Last Five Years could be the subject of its own musical. First appearing at Southwark Playhouse in early 2020, it was forced to end its run early due to the pandemic. It then returned to the venue again later in the year, only to close early due to another lockdown. One online stream later and it has found its way to the West End... amazingly for the first time ever.



First premiering in 2001, Jason Robert Browns musical has played off-West End and off-Broadway multiple times, but never found its way to a West End home until now. Playing at the Garrick Theatre for a limited run, The Last Five Years tells the story of the five year relationship between Jamie and Cathy, inspired by Browns own marriage. What makes this show so special is the unique narrative - the story is simultaneously told in reverse order from Cathys perspective, and from the beginning from Jamie's. This allows a lot of fun to be had with creative storytelling - when this show is in the right hands, of course.


Produced by Aria Entertainment, the methods they use to tell the story and highlight the different times border on genius - through Jamie singing to an empty chair as Cathy watches on from behind to clever uses of props and a gorgeous moment where the pair finally meet in the middle - the only time they find themselves in the same space, this really is a beautiful testament to the story in the show.



The production has been stepped up since its days at Southwark Playhouse. What the West End have received is a glossier, more polished version of the show brilliantly directed by Jonathan O'Boyle. Where that production was performed in the round, the West End version adds new elements to make use of the bigger space, while keeping a revolve for key parts. The Last Five Years has never needed bells and whistles - a few simple props and a grand piano are all thats required to make this show truly effective. With a creative team taking care of every detail (I wrote last year about the Easter eggs littered in the piece. Look out for the magazine cover) this really is a truly fabulous production.


An excellent two hander, Oli Higginson plays the role of Jamie. Utterly charming, he embodies the journey the character goes on, from the youthful innocence of 23 year old Jamie to the older, more experienced and flawed 28 year old we see at the shows end. Oli displays brilliant comedy timing on highlight 'The Schmuel Song' with gorgeous vocals on numbers such as standout 'If I Didn't Believe In You' and an outpouring of emotion on 'Nobody Needs To Know'.



Cathy is played by Molly Lynch who has the unenviable task of performing the show back to front, starting with heartbreak and ending with hopeful optimism which is utterly heartbreaking, given what we know. If Molly was good in the previous productions of the show, she has moved on to the next level here with some incredible vocals and fantastic stage presence that only seems to grow the larger the stage she was on. Oozing star power, Lynch is sure to be a force to be reckoned with in the future.



What makes The Last Five Years such a good show is the amazing collection of songs from Jason Robert Brown. Catchy upbeat numbers like 'Moving Too Fast' are interspersed with heartbreaking ballads such as 'Still Hurting' while songs like 'A Summer In Ohio' give opportunity for comedy with Browns witty lyrics. The orchestrations have been updated slightly by Leo Munby and Nick Barstow, keeping the show fresh in its 20th year. Oprah Winfrey even gets a mention in an updated lyric.



People may be put off of The Last Five Years due to its unconventional narrative. For me, this is what elevates the show to something truly special. Moving in parts, funny in others - the show is extremely relatable to anyone who has ever been in a relationship that turned sour. A truly intimate show, the use of a bigger stage doesn't take anything away from that intimacy - it only adds elements to it, while ensuring you never lose the heart of the story.


Having seen multiple productions of The Last Five Years, I said last year that this Aria Entertainment production is the definitive version of the show. I stand by that opinion. What was already an amazing show has miraculously become even better with this slicker production. Time has been kind to the team involved, with Lynch and Higginson growing in the roles with every run the show has. Nearly two years since they began in the role, imagine what they'll be like if they manage to make five years.



It's crazy to think The Last Five Years has taken 20 years to debut in the West End. One thing is for sure though, it won't be another 20 years before we see it next. This production is too good to just be a limited run - if there's any justice, it will return soon for a well deserved longer run. The Last Five Years really is a slice of perfection. Browns timeless songs are performed with more authenticity and feeling than perhaps they have ever been before - the whole thing results in a stunning love letter to musical theatre and a definite must-see.


★★★★★


The Last Five Years plays at the Garrick Theatre until October 17th. Tickets from nimaxtheatres.com

Comments


bottom of page